Friday, December 31, 2010


Okay, so I haven't posted in about a week (sorry about that!) and the first thing I write about is exercise.  Good lord.
In high school, my best friends were on the cross-country team, something I never did.  For one thing, at that point running seemed silly, and it also took up a lot of time.  I did things like... well, field hockey.  Or being in the musical instead.  The only sport I really cared about then was sailing - still just about my favourite thing to do (more on that at some later point).  But then around junior or senior year, I guess, I had some pretty serious insomnia and the thing that made the most sense to me was to go running so I would be tired enough to go back to bed.  Hey, I'm not saying it actually made sense.  Just, to my sleep-deprived brain that continued to think in lymphocytes and French homework and history, running would exhaust me and clear my mind enough so that I could go back to bed.  Also, contrary to popular belief, Cambridge isn't actually that dangerous.  You can go running by the river at night and you'll be fine.
By then, my brain didn't really work well unless I went running.  I would get crabby and distracted in class.  Also, my perfectionism kicked in at that point.  I was going to run faster and longer than anyone else.  So I did, and I just kept going, I guess.
This past week, I hadn't gone running once until today.  What a difference a week makes.
Anyways, I hope you have a wonderful new year.  Mike, I wish you many long runs.

Monday, December 27, 2010

It is blizzarding outside...

...And there is jazz playing inside my house.  Basically all of New England was put on a blizzard watch yesterday, and it is still snowing.  Usually we get this kind of snowstorm about once a year, but it came very fast and now we can't open the door.  If you were in Boston visiting for the holidays, your flight has probably been cancelled.  I'm sorry.  Since it's difficult to get outside, I would suggest curling up and reading good books and eating chocolate (that's what I've been doing).
Caleb's best friend came over yesterday with his upright bass and stayed the night, so it's rather nice to be sitting here and listening to "Black Orpheus."  At the same time, I'm starting to go a little crazy.  I am one of those people who goes running every day.  The kind of person who goes a bit crazy if they don't.  For two days, now (three, counting today) I have not been outside.  This is made worse by the fact that for Christmas I was given super-fancy high-tech running gear for cold weather after some family drove me home when I was freezing on the Mass Ave bridge.  And now I can't even use it yet.
But I had a wonderful Christmas!  A Christmas in which I made figgy pudding with saffron and crystallized ginger, a Christmas in which Ursie ran around in circles after receiving a present, a Christmas in which we all slept in a bit but still jumped on my parents at around 9:30.  How was your Christmas?  Are you snowed in?  What are you doing?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's practically here!

Well, not yet, but Christmas is very very close!  I'm super-excited.  Presents to the relatives have been sent off to New Zealand and Vancouver and Tennessee, and we have picked up our goose at Savenor's.  The King's College choir is singing "In The Bleak Midwinter," there is snow in the garden, and the Christmas tree is full of lights.  I'm almost ready.
My brother (you know, the cooking enthusiast) is making our Christmas Eve dinner - a mix of Syrian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Turkish, and French influences (I believe.  It's sometimes hard to know with him.), and I have the ingredients for our figgy pudding.  It's the first time we're trying it, and I'm very excited.  Mine will be made with ginger and saffron and vanilla on top of, you know, figs and whatever else goes in.
Tonight I'm having dinner with Mike's family (and I can give him his present!), and I'll probably be offline for tomorrow and the next day at the very least.
Happy Christmas, everyone!  Enjoy your holiday and your snow (if you have snow) and your carols.  Eat delicious food in front of the fire, wake up at seven and bounce on your parents' bed, and get dressed up.  Sing.  Have fun!  And tell me all about it after.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Picture from here
Right now I'm sitting on my couch while my brother is playing Mozart on the cello, looking outside at the snow lilting downwards.  It snowed (and stuck) for the first time on Sunday night, I think (maybe Monday?).  I love the first snowfall - and every one after that, really.  One of the perks of living in New England (aside from our perfect autumns) is the snow every winter - snow for Christmas, snow that makes people cross-country-ski down the Esplanade, snow that shuts down the city for hours.  But one of the best things about snow is the light.  In winter, at twilight, we get this crazy electrical blue sky, a blue that holds light, and for about seven minutes the snow reflects that light back so that the world seems a little less grey and a little more saturated.   There's a jazz group called Oregon that made a record called "Winter Light," and that gloaming sky is always what I think of when I listen to their music.  That blue light reflecting off the snow.
On the other hand, we have snow here until March.  While it is lovely through most of February, snow in March isn't that great.  And snow (and slippery ice) marks the end of my running outside for the year.  Oh, well.   The crabbiness that comes from a lack of exercise is a small price to pay for those seven minutes at four or four-thirty every day.  It's hard to be irritable when the light turns lovely colours, no?  Also - snow days and snow angels and days spent inside next to the fire - who can argue with that?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Party

Our party was a huge success!  I love having our house full of people.  Everyone ate and talked and at the end we played music in the living room with my father on the guitar and my brother on piano.  It was exhausting and fun, but I have to say that it's nice to finally relax a bit!  On Sunday my whole family basically slept and did the crossword puzzle.... Today I went Christmas shopping with my sister and finished buying all the presents...
What about you guys?  What did you do with your weekends?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A small act of defiance

Last summer my family went to live in Lausanne, Switzerland.  I mean no disrespect to the Swiss here, but I found the country stifling and conformist and very very xenophobic.  While we were there, we received a newspaper with this ad/poster on it:
picture from here
Apparently this is a normal thing in Switzerland - these posters are everywhere, at bus stops, taped to bulletin boards in restaurants, wrapped around telephone poles, and no one stops for a second.  The same newspaper that we received talked about the dangers of "etranger criminale" - what my family quickly deemed "criminal stranger."  
We were criminal strangers for fare evasion on the subway, for when my eleven-year-old sister wrapped a scarf around her head, for laughing and talking too loudly at the beach.  We were criminal strangers for openly condemning the xenophobia of a newspaper circulated by the government that asked "how much longer must we tolerate Islam?"  We were criminal strangers because we don't believe that a country should outlaw mosques.  So today, back home in Boston, I put together my admittedly pathetic and tiny act of defiance.
I made cookies today.  Chocolate-black pepper cookies, and the dough is this wonderfully rich shade of deep deep brown.  Cooked, they almost seem black.  Today I made pan after pan of chocolate cookies shaped like sheep.  Not much, but an awful lot of fun.  Merry Christmas, Switzerland.  Have a cookie.

(see the recipe and such after the jump!)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's been a hell of a week

Sorry for not really posting this week - our annual Christmas party is on Saturday and the whole family has been working overtime to get ready for it.  I've made a ton of cookies and ginger bars and tortelli.... here's what I'm pretty sure is the menu, if you'd like to see:
bacon-wrapped water chestnuts
salmon mousse
chive crepes with duck and hoisin sauce
apple-onion tart
lamb-pinenut pizza
tortelli of butternut squash with sage brown butter sauce
smoked ribs and chicken wings
butternut squash quesadillas with chipotle sauce
"dips" - probably means Sultan's Delight, Muhamara, and something with carrots
walnut-date bars
sugar cookies (decorated by my sister and me last night!)
chocolate-black pepper cookies
ginger bars

I think that's everything, but I'm not entirely sure.  I might post some recipes, if anyone is interested...
Also, tonight is the PIH Christmas party, and tomorrow my brother is hosting a benefit concert for Haiti! A long, very full, slightly stressful week, to be sure!

Gift Guide, Part VIII: your father who listens to more music than anyone, who drives a red vanagon, and is pretty much the coolest person around

These are ideas for my father.  My father likes receiving "music we're listening to" and history books, and shirts from REI.  My friends think that he's so very amazing, and so do the rest of us.  He hikes with us and goes for long bike rides, knows basically all the Grateful Dead songs as well as all of Ravel's string quartets, and lights fires in the wood stove for us in the morning.  Daddy, don't look!
A Jason Mraz album, because that's a lot of what I've been listening to recently, $12.99

Palestine, a graphic novel about the conflict in the middle east, $14.89

My father is really, really hard to get presents for, so if any of you have any ideas at all, please please please let me know!  He is my most challenging recipient....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gift Guide, Part VII: your darling mother who doesn't really realize how incredible she actually is

These are ideas for my mother.  My incredible doctoring, teaching, writing mother who can somehow do everything without going too crazy, who manages to keep us all grounded, who can say silly things and save people from TB.  Mommy, don't look!
A vintage poster to hang in her office, because she works with TB most of the time, $22

A novel by Per Petterson, $5.60

A travelling bag to take on the plane and still look put-together, $74.95

Do any of you have ideas for parents?  Let me know in the comments!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gift Guide, Part VI: your incredible brother who makes Moroccan food and plays the cello late at night

These are ideas for my younger brother (it would be silly to call him little given that he's got almost a foot on me), who speaks Spanish fluently, rides his bike even in the snow, makes delicious muhamara, and plays Chopin heartbreakingly beautifully.  Caleb, don't read this!
A cookbook from one of the best restaurants in the world, $31.50

A gentleman's knife for the kitchen, since my brother is most definitely a gentleman, $79.95

Or leather-and-wool gloves so that his hands won't freeze when he bikes to school, $50

Do any of you have ideas for teenage boys who do everything a million times better than you ever could, who bike and play three instruments and have been reading the Greeks since grade school?  Let me know in the comments, as always.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gift Guide, Part V: your stunning little sister who at eleven knows more than you ever will

These are gift ideas for my quirky little sister, who holds my hand when we're walking down the street and doesn't get embarrassed, who has perfected the art of being both snarly and kind, who sings duets with me and plays the violin with aplomb.  Ursie, don't read this!
Plain Kate, an Ursie book if there ever was one, $12.23

If money were no object, a fairy tale jewelry holder, $128

What do you think?  Do you have any ideas for wildly intelligent, caring, half-grown-up little girls who love books and turtles and Greek myths?  Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gift Guide, Part IV: the girl who dances around your living room, makes pillows that record your dreams, and didn't get tired of the family even after Africa

These are gift ideas for the woman who started out as a babysitter and ended up being a foster family member, who lives an incredibly glamorous and down-to-earth life, tells us stories, and has the coolest sense of personal style that I know.  Edo, don't read this!
Neat charcoal soap, $12.00

Bronze stars for her bedroom or office, $22.00

Or geometric bone earrings, $10.50

Any ideas for super-cool, super-stylish graduate students?

Gift Guide, Part III: the boy who talked to you all summer via skype, is terrifyingly talented, and makes delicious dumplings

These are gift ideas for Kuzu's older brother, who has stayed over until four in the morning talking, goes to RISD, walks me home at night when he thinks I won't be safe, complements my pavlova, and is one of the more talented cooks I know.  Patrick, don't read this!
The Bike Snob book because he bikes everywhere and might think it funny, $11.53

Pear and Pomegranate tea from Tealuxe, because that's basically what he survives on, 10.99

Or very dark chocolate, the kind he loves, $4.25

Do you guys have any ideas for artists who survive on tea and chocolate, speak French and Japanese and Chinese, barely sleep because of how much work they have, but still have time for you? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gift Guide, Part II: the boy who takes care of you, lets you call at two in the morning, goes to MIT, and listens to just about the same music you do

These are gift ideas for my other best friend, the one who drives me places when I need it, threatens my ex-boyfriends with bodily harm, listens to me cry, lets me hug him (trust me, this is an accomplishment), and can talk to me for hours about the beginning of the universe.  One of my favourite people... Mike, don't read this!
A book on string theory, $13.57

The Midnight Disease, a book on hypergraphia and other cool stuff, $10.20

Or Complications, one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors (I've been obsessing for a while now), $8.40

Do any of you have any suggestions for amazing science-y boys who give amazing presents like the Oxford anthology of poetry?  Let me know!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gift Guide, Part I: your childhood best friend who adores lambs and speaks four languages

These are gift ideas for the girl I grew up with, who introduced me to animation, Edward Gorey, Dr. Who, Orlando Bloom as a crusader, lamejun, and more.  She's pretty incredible, if I do say so myself....  Kuzu, don't read this!
A pretty printed skirt, $128....

Bracelets made from watch springs, $12....

The Epiplectic Bicycle, $8 (or, you know, free if you happen to have a copy)...
Also, a hat in the shape of a sheep, which I couldn't find online but saw in Harvard Square the other day.  Is there anything I'm missing?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reading, or Loving Books

This was part of an assignment for school when I was a junior.  I might post the rest at some point, but I loved these pieces.  Lucille, if you're reading this (I bet you aren't), thank you for assigning this!  Perhaps some of the best writing I've ever done.  

I am a lover of books.  I devour them whole, the taste of plot and paper and ink mingling on my tongue and in my throat.  I crawled into stories as a little girl, wrapped tight around fairytales in footsie pajamas, milk in hand.  I fell in at seven, eight, nine, ten, I hit the ground with scrapes and cuts, I got sick and took my refuge where other people ran and jumped and played.  I wandered in at eleven and twelve, day-dreamingly losing myself in an elsewhere I had no hope of joining, sailing away with Odysseus and finding true love with Elizabeth Bennett.
I read in bed, covered in quilts and lying down, arm aching from holding my book upright.  I read by the kitchen fire, feet almost beneath the woodstove, back pressed against the refrigerator.  I read curled on the couch and sprawled on the floor and sitting tightly on the train.  I read in trees and on the beach and on camping trips.  I read, in short, everywhere.
I read fast.  I finish readings meant for an hour in twenty minutes or less, I read whole novels in one sitting, I lose track of time until what feels like a whole eon inside the book is simply fifteen minutes.  As such, I cannot read aloud - my head is faster than my mouth.  I get annoyed with myself for simply breathing and lose where I am, already a page ahead of where my breath was.
I read everything.  I read James Joyce and Le Petit Prince and Nietzsche in one weekend.  I read the throwaway newspaper on the subway and the Sunday New York Times cover-to-cover.  I read music and words until I'm full - or at least satiated.  I read Victorian novels the most, though, the wind on the heath wuthering in my dreams, the house at Pemberly rising like a pearl from the middle of the Lake Country.  I read them over and over again until I know them by heart and whisper along with the characters.
I lust for books.  I want and want and there's never enough.  I am addicted to books, the words and stories crawling through my veins and rising like smoke from the air I exhale.  There is always a certain amount of pain when I am not reading, a desire to launch myself in, to ease the suffering, to satiate the thirst, to relieve the undeniable want.  So back again I go to those never-ending feasts of words, those entire pages, chapters, novels, those piles of stories ripe and filling and addicting.  I am a lover of books. How can I not be?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A letter to a very dear friend

My darling Bennett,
Today was your chapel.  You spoke so truthfully, so honest and open and raw, so brave that more than once I twisted my hands together, willing myself not to cry.
You are incredible.  You stood at the podium, looking at four hundred people.  I know that you don't like all of them, but you found it within yourself to let them all in.  You found it within yourself to tell the truth that is visceral and aching to all of us sitting there, listening to you.  You stood up there, facing the bleary-eyed people in the bright morning, and you told us who you are.
Yesterday my mother and I were talking about what writing should be, and we decided that the purpose was to shine a light on a cross-section of the human condition.  I sat behind you on the bench, looking at your back, where your ponytail doesn't quite brush your shoulder blades.  You showed us a cross-section of the human condition.  You gave us your realized world, and you left all of us with more understanding of what life is.
I have long regretted not writing you a thank-you in my own chapel, because I realised quite quickly that you are one of the best friends I have.  Hopefully this letter partially makes up for that.
You are brave and brilliant - so brave, and so, so brilliant.  You are the most truthful person I know, the most tolerant, the bravest.  You are the one that I call when I am cold or angry or unstrung.  You are the one that I can always talk to about anything because even when we argue we come out alright.  I don't see enough of you anymore, and I miss you.  Stay brave and brilliant and I will remember the night when my tears seeped onto your shoulder and you didn't push me away.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Is the first of December and the first day of Advent!
Like silly procrastinators, we forgot to get our Advent calendars and so will get them tomorrow at some point....
I adore Christmas.  I adore the songs (especially Lo, How A Rose) and the lights in the Boston Common and the people in coats ringing bells for the Salvation Army.  And now it's almost Advent!
Tomorrow I'm taking my darling sister to see the Harry Potter movie.  We don't hang out just the two of us enough, so hopefully I can either pick her up at school or meet her somewhere and then we can go have lunch and the movie.  Has anyone seen it?  Is it any good?
I'm excited, are you?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sometimes I love...

I was walking home from the hospital today through Boston.  I walked up Charles Street to the Common, and down Boylston through Copley Square and to Newbury.
There is something lovely about walking through the city.  Something that defies definition, something to do with the people who all have somewhere to be (it seems), all the people talking on their cellphones and hurrying to catch the light to cross the street.  Something about how everyone is already playing Christmas music, about how the air smells like snow in the afternoon (well, snow and car exhaust), about the wind on the choppy Charles.
I love my city.  I love the river and the people and the churches and the grime on the brick sidewalks.  I love that all the streets have beautiful names like Milk and Commonwealth and how bikes and cars run, horns honking, through yellow and then red lights.  I love that in between the high glass buildings of the MIT Media Lab and software firms are tiny greasy-spoon diners with chain-link walls in front when they're closed.  I love the lights shaped like dancing people strung up above Central Square in winter evenings.
And I take pride in knowing the city.  I don't know it as well as some do (my brother knows everything about the city, including where to find the best vegan pad thai), but I know my way around.  I know the best bike route home from downtown if you have no light and it's dark.  I know where to find the high vaulted ceilings of the andala coffeehouse and where to find a mess of eggs for seventy-five cents.  I know where to get ice cream.
It's on days like today I love the city - cold days, days when noises and smells are crisp in the sharp air and you can hear the T on the Longfellow Bridge from way down the Esplanade.
Perhaps all this week (it's rounds - that means I get to go in every day) I will walk home through the city instead of taking the T.  It's more beautiful this way.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so here is what I am thankful for, in no particular order:
1)  My family.  I love you guys more than anything - I love watching the Lord of the Rings, I love singing Jason Mraz songs, I love just sitting and talking.  You're the best.
2)  My friends.  Especially Mike and Alex this past little while - you two have been pretty amazing.
3)  Books.  All books.
4)  Tea.
5)  A bike that gets me around the city.
And... that's all I can think of off the top of my head.  What about you guys?  What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't get excited yet, but...

We always win.  Photo via thefire
Christmas is absolutely my favorite holiday, but I am of the firm belief that you don't start celebrating (or even planning celebrations) until after Thanksgiving.  There is one exception, and that is Advent calendars, which you kind of need before December 1st.
So I will do something for Christmas (posting ideas for presents, etc), but not until basically December first.  If you know me personally, and you see your name/an apt description of you in the title of a post with the word "present" in there, don't read it.  It's supposed to be a surprise.
In other exciting news, Harvard beat Yale.  Yeah.  Because we're that good.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, etc!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oh, New England...

You are beautiful and sweet and I love the autumn and winter here, but you just can't compete with Turkey.  Specifically, what I believe to be Istanbul in my brother's new cookbook Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  Mosques, cold mornings on the Bosphorus, spice bazaars, coffeehouses with high ceilings and many-paned windows...
Have any of you been to Istanbul?  If so, did you like it?  If not, do you want to go?  It just sounds beautiful and bleak and vibrant and alive...
So my current travel obsession is Turkey.  What's yours?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Other people do this too, right?

My family plays a kind of game on Sunday mornings.  My parents and I do the crossword, but somewhere in the depths of the Sunday New York Times is.... the Travel section.  And the Modern Love essay in the Style section, but that's less important.  The Travel section fuels our wanderlust in a way that little else on New England November Sundays can.  At the bottom of the first page are about six places, and we all choose which one we'd like to go to.  Yesterday it went like this:
Options: Japan, Angkor, Istanbul, Kutna Hora (Czechoslovakia), Newcastle, Brazil
Caleb: Istanbul
Ursula: Istanbul
Daddy: Istanbul and/or Angkor
Mum: abstain (in Berlin, so she can't really say anything)
Me: Angkor
To be clear, even on days when Istanbul isn't mentioned in the paper, it's a big deal in our house.
What about you guys?  Out of those six options, where would you like to go?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Caleb!

Yesterday was my darling brother's birthday.  Also, a public health symposium.  But that doesn't matter right now.
Caleb turned sixteen (Sixteen!  Only a year younger than me, now!) and we celebrated in style.  Because he loves food, we had something like four courses and wonderful presents.  I think it went something like (1) tortelli of butternut squash with sage brown butter (courtesy of the Olives cookbook)
(2) coquille st-jaques
(3) rack of lamb with sour cherry sauce, creamed spinach, and jerusalem artichokes
(4) chestnut souffle with brandy creme anglaise.
The chestnut souffle was our attempt at a dessert we tried in Paris at a restaurant called Le Cosi, and is honestly the best dessert I have ever had.  And I adore sweets.  Our version wasn't exactly the same, but perhaps the best dessert we have ever made (including, you know, years of Pavlova and chocolate cakes and pumpkin bread puddings...).  And then we had presents.  Caleb is really really difficult to find gifts for.  My father is the same way, but he generally asks for "music we're currently listening to," which means Radiohead or Belle & Sebastian or something.  Caleb has very specific music tastes, so I don't really buy him music anymore for fear that he'll laugh at me.  So I got him two shirts, a tie from the 1930s, and an IOU for tea at Laduree the next time we're in Paris.  It's also difficult to see what kind of clothes he'll like, but he bought me a sweater that I wear basically all the time for my birthday, so I figured I'd return the favor.  And then, you know, he got cookbooks and serving dishes and a computer since his was stolen a while ago.  I'd say it was a pretty successful birthday.
Happy Birthday, Caleb!  I love you!  Thank you for promising to beat up my ex-boyfriends, for spending that five days with me in Paris by ourselves, for making the same jokes that I do and putting up with the fact that I have long telephone conversations in the next room basically every other night.  You're the best brother anyone could ask for.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Homesickness (weirdly)

Sitting in the global health conference today, staring up at the projection, it hit me like a wave of nausea.  Homesickness.  It was just a picture of a hospital up there on that screen, but the speaker meant the hospital to be an example of private-public partnerships, and to me it was home.  Looking at that picture, I knew how long it took to walk through the long grasses and up the red dirt road to my concrete room on the hill.  I knew the slightly sneezy feeling in my nose from all of the dust in the Dry Season air.  I knew how god-awful the cassava pesto tasted.  I knew it all, hitting me over the head with just a picture of a hospital.
Ever since we came back from Africa before my junior year, I'm not sure I've been home.  Don't get me wrong - I love my room.  I love the Russian painting of a cat above my bed, the pointe shoes hanging on a hook, the Wall-E made of scrap metal, the calendar of vintage seed catalogs.  And I love my house.  I love the woodstove in the kitchen, the four windows in the library, the wheezing noises of the radiators.  I love my room, my house, my city.  But I'm not sure if it is my home.
I miss Africa more than anything.  I miss Africa when I hear Rwandan accents or see hospitals in the hills.  I hadn't realized how much I missed Africa until then, listening to a lecture in which the speaker showed a simple photo - a landscape that brought tears stinging behind my eyelids.  For the first time in a long time (which I don't get - did I just bury all of this?) I feel I can't go on without the red dust and heat and smells and noise that pull me back.
When the photograph came up I called a friend of mine.  His response was that people are normally homesick for their past and present homes rather than a future home, and I know that he's right.
It's odd, though.  I always thought that I could go wandering without being tied down to places.  And I love London and Paris and Greece (the extent of the rest of my travels).  I could live there for a while - I'd love to, in fact.  But when I see a photo of clouds over Parliament, I think "oh, I love London, I wish I could go back."  I don't think that I might die if I don't return.  That was melodramatic, but you know what I mean.  I still think that the light on the moors is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, but my heart is not wrenched in the same way it is towards Africa.
Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa" understands the indescribable pull of the continent.  In "The Grass Is Singing," Doris Lessing examines its darker, destructive side.  But it is always there.  The rawness of Africa grabs you and holds you tight and never lets go.  So I am homesick.  I am not homesick for my past and present home, for the place of my birth, for all that I love about New England - fall and winter and muddy spring.  I am homesick for red dust and wooden bikes and the rawness of an entire continent.  Somehow, in this whole mess of things, I am homesick for Africa.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sometimes I pretend to be a grownup....

... And weirdly, most of the time people don't notice.  For example, I've learned reasonably quickly that you can bypass all of the standing in line at the hospital by looking harried and making a beeline for the elevators.  This happens elsewhere, too - waiting for the T, in coffeeshops, anywhere really.  Maybe it's dressing like a grownup (also known as stealing your mother's clothing).  Maybe it's just pretending.
Also, it makes one feel like a fraud.  I was meeting with a woman the other day who thought that I was taking a gap year between college and medical school.  Nevermind that I'm not sure I want to go to medical school.  But I am seventeen years old and apparently I look like I have my life planned out.  What?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Heartbreaking, breathtaking....

On Friday night my little sister and I got dressed up and I tottered in the high-heeled shoes I wore to my senior Formal to the Boston Opera House for the second night performance of Boston Ballet's La Bayadère.  Those who know me know that I love ballet, and this was honestly the best performance I have ever seen.
The ballet tells the story of Nikiya, the temple dancer, and her doomed love for a soldier.  Chaos ensues, including a poisonous snake hidden in a basket of flowers, cat fights (including an attempt to stab the princess with what looked like a letter opener), and the most thrilling fourth act of all time.  Seriously, all the women in the Company had to be on stage then, doing the exact same thing, slowly climbing into their arabesques.  Absolutely beautiful.
Ursula and I had seats in the fourth row (!), which was absolutely incredible.  We both cried when (spoiler alert) Nikiya died, and watched in wonder when one woman spent about five minutes entirely en pointe.  Also, when the shirtless men came out.  That was most definitely a high point in the ballet, and not just because they were wearing practically nothing.  Because they were leaping higher than I previously believed possible for a human being.  Also because they were really hot.
We celebrated my father's birthday on Sunday with cassoulet and bread pudding... an excellent end to the weekend.
How was your weekend?  Did you do anything spectacular?  If you live around Boston, do you plan on going to the ballet?  You should!

Friday, November 5, 2010


Tonight my little sister and I are going to go see La Bayadere at the Opera House.  It's second night (who puts opening night on a Thursday?) and I'm super-excited.  The tickets were a Christmas gift from my parents, and I haven't been to see something cultural in ages.
What are you doing this weekend?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When does something become art?

This may be frivolous and a little silly and also a way of procrastinating, but I've been wondering about something.  When does fashion stop being about frivolous pursuits in the way of clothing and become about art?  Is the fashion industry really a machine of capitalism or is it a machine that shows us new works of art from various artists?
My parents and I talk about this every so often.  I maintain that some collections (like Rodarte's Spring 2010 collection, the one that looked like the post-apocalyptic highlands meets Maori warriors) are art, but that the way that the fashion industry presents these works of art - you know, two weeks a year in far-off but beautiful and expensive places - is less than ideal.  Because then they're making art into a capitalist venture, somehow.
Maybe what I'm trying to say is that if your inspiration comes from some unknown place - let's go back to Rodarte's collection and say the Scottish highlands and the haka - and the way that you express that inspiration is through making garments, that's a good thing.  But art shouldn't really be an industry, I think. Maybe it makes it impersonal that way, or maybe I've just grown up in a culture where industry means dehumanization, but if fashion is art rather than a necessity or a way to make money, why are there fashion weeks and magazine advertisements?
Everything about the fashion industry confuses me.  Everything.  Except the Rodarte Spring 2010 collection, which was the first collection that I really fell in love with...
Have a picture:
Image from Rodarte's Spring 2010 Collection via

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Sorry about not posting!  Yesterday I was a little under-the-weather and I didn't have time over the weekend....
About that - the weekend.  Usually I don't have very exciting weekends (Ursula goes to choir, church, etc), but this weekend was pretty amazing.  Since Caleb doesn't have school until Thursday, we had the whole weekend free to  do whatever we liked instead of conforming it to a homework schedule.
Friday night Caleb went to a dance so the four of us went out to dinner at a nice restaurant (I can't say where lest Caleb reads this and is angry) and then watched a very interesting movie - Before the Rains.  Have you seen it?  It's about India in the thirties... Parts of it are well done and others just aren't believable at all.
On Saturday, we went to climb Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire.  It was freezing cold, and we only got up Firescrew (the mountain next to Cardigan that you have to climb as well) before it started getting a little dark and more than a little chilly.  We should have been expecting this (you know, almost November and in the mountains and all), but there was ice all along the creases in the rock and once we got above tree line, it began to snow.  I was excited - the first snowfall of the year!  I love the snow and wintertime in general, and it was so beautiful looking across the valleys from the top of the mountain, even though all the leaves had changed and fallen already.
On Sunday - Hallowe'en! - we went out into the countryside to go apple picking, which we try to do at least once a year.  We always go to the same place - Phil's Orchard in Harvard - and then go hiking at the Oxbow reserve afterwards.  Then it was home for us and getting ready for Hallowe'en!  The four of us (my parents, Caleb, and me) watched the house while Ursula went trick-or-treating with her friends.
Since my father's birthday is Hallowe'en, we celebrate the next weekend.  We're making cassoulet, I think, and pumpkin bread pudding....

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

Happy Hallowe'en everyone!
Do you get trick-or-treaters?  Do you dress up?
It's also my father's birthday, but we're celebrating tomorrow so my sister can trick or treat and the like...
Anyways, hope that you're having a great day!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Weekend fast approaching

Hurray, it's Friday!  The Friday before Hallowe'en, no less! In our house, Hallowe'en is usually a big deal.  We dress up and festoon the bushes in old cobwebs and stuff old clothes full of pillows so that it looks like a headless man is sitting on the porch.  But this year we haven't even got our pumpkins yet!  I think it has something to do with my brother Caleb being in the middle of junior year midterms....
In the past, we've had very inventive and hard-to-classify costumes.  I think that I was once a Hungarian pixie, and when we were very little (before my sister was born), Caleb and I went as a cat (him) and an angel (me).  The cat had mouse ears.  It used to be that at the end of every summer, when we went camping, we would bike around Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park and then sit on a certain rock to discuss Hallowe'en costumes, and now I guess that doesn't happen anymore.  My sister Ursula plans to be a fishwife, I believe.  I might just find a dress that I don't wear very often and put that on...
Hallowe'en is also my father's birthday, but we generally don't celebrate on Hallowe'en due to Trick-or-Treating and the like... and since Caleb finishes his midterms today, he has the weekend and a couple days next week off.  We might go hiking up Mount Cardigan or something to celebrate my father's birthday...
I miss the days when I was so excited for Hallowe'en that I couldn't think of anything else for about two weeks.  Now I've almost forgotten it with the volunteer work that I'm doing and my Harvard Extension School class, which has been taking up a ton of my time with the two papers that are due on Tuesday.  Holidays go by too fast now...
What is your favorite holiday?  What are you doing this weekend?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book Review: The Bone People

            Okay, maybe this isn’t the best book to review because it is my favorite book in the world.  I used to hate it when people asked me what my favorite book was – there are so many to choose from and I love to read.  But on Parents Weekend my senior year, my mother and I went into a bookshop – she was going on a business trip soon and we were looking for books to read on the plane – and found the Bone People.  I usually read pretty fast, but this one took me about two weeks to read, mainly because I wanted to savor it, and since then it’s become my favorite book of all time.  For me, at least, this is the best book I have ever read.
            That said, it’s not for everyone.  It deals with some really tough issues in unusual ways.  It’s not exactly PC about things that people get very angry about.  But I think the story, and the writing, and even the polarizing parts are incredible.  Keri Hulme has this way with words that drowns you in her story, that makes you want to find that South Island beach with the tower.  When I was reading it, I never wanted it to end. 
            I’ve read it maybe three times since and every time I love it more and more.  On some level, I think it’s true that the first time you read something is the best time because after that you know the story and all the resolutions to the problems.  Nevertheless, I learn something new every single time I read this book.  Go and read it.  It doesn’t matter if you love it or hate it – it’s still beautiful.  


When we lived in Rwanda we saw very few cars aside from the hospital vans and our own ancient Land Rover.  Instead, everyone biked.  More interestingly, most of the locals used wooden bikes.  I’m not talking about a wooden frame with a metal chain and rubber tires.  I’m saying that the entire thing was wooden – polished, gleaming wood racing down the dirt road beside our car.  Crates of coffee were balanced on the back of the bikes, and these guys were racing down hills with practically no brakes and definitely no helmets.  It was terrifying to watch these people plummet into valleys, but the craftsmanship and just the fact that they were on wooden bikes was incredible. 
While we were living at the hospital, two other expats who had mountain bikes were living there, too.  They went out biking almost every afternoon after work, and at the end of their bike ride, the village kids would swarm around them.  One evening, they good-naturedly got off their bikes and helped some of the kids on.  I remember sitting in the hospital, watching them pushing these kids up the hill on their bikes, the kids screaming and waving their arms around.  Not as cool as wooden bikes, but mountain bikes are still pretty neat, right?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Greece.  Via Sacred Mountains

Maybe it’s just me, but there are certain songs that mean different things to me.  When I was twelve and we went to Greece for my uncle’s wedding, we drove around the country for two weeks first.  On that trip we had three CDs: The Best of Johnny Clegg & Savuka, The Best of Marvin Gaye, and Babylon by Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers.  Whenever I hear music from those records it makes me think of our long drives through the countryside and orange orchards, of fruit that tasted so real it’s hard to believe and the wine-dark sea.  And then there are other songs.  For my chapel in November of my senior year, I played “Under African Skies” by Paul Simon and “I Guess This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)” by the Talking Heads because the songs were about Africa and home, the themes of my chapel.  I didn’t really know the Talking Heads song before my chapel, and now it’s one of my favorites. 
And then I have generalizations.  I listen to the Grateful Dead (specifically, Trucking and Casey Jones) and Peter Gabriel (Sledgehammer and Digging in the Dirt) on car trips.  Jason Mraz (Bella Luna, Sleeping to Dream, and Clockwatching) makes me sleepy.  Gotta Have You by the Weepies is the most Kerewin-y song I know – it always makes me think of the Bone People.  David Bowie will always be the Goblin King (my first love) for me, and As The World Falls Down is emblematic of Labyrinth. 
What kind of music do you listen to?  Do certain songs remind you of emotions or experiences?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reaching the Top

I've thought about posting some of my creative writing here, if that's okay.  So, here goes:

He's the kind of person who smiles when you talk about mountains, a painfully nostalgic smile that lets you know he's in the Smokies with you, helping each other up, climbing until only Carolina myrtle and rhododendron grow on the rocky cliffs.  He smiles when he's sad, he drinks tea, he is climbing in his head all the time.  I once watched him climbing, and he held his hands ready like a gymnast - the way a gymnast chalks her hands before climbing onto the uneven bars, the way a ballet dancer crushes her toes in resin before running onto the stage - he flexed his hands before finding a place to grab on and swung himself upward.  And after he clenched and unclenched his hands, after he pulled himself up the rock face, feet lightly touching the cliff where his hands were, bouncing upwards, he stopped being a performer.  When he was higher, when it was hand-over-hand, pulling himself closer to the sky, he stopped noticing that this was Sunday and that anything else was here.  When he was higher all he could see were the rocks above him and the sky; he was holding on like the Carolina myrtle, all alone.

"Do you want to come up?"  Sincere, confident, he extends his hand and you, self-conscious in your beginner status, flex your hands like he did - now you are crushing the resin into sand beneath your toe, now you are running onto stage to leap as never before - and find a place to start, your feet dancing awkwardly across the granite and lichen.  Smiling - not a sad smile anymore, a joyous this-is-what-I-want smile, he leans down and offers you his hand and you grab on.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cholera Outbreak

via PIH
Now, after the devastating January earthquake, Haiti is facing another disaster.  An outbreak of cholera has been documented in Saint Marc in central Haiti.  Though there are no tent cities from the earthquake in Saint Marc, many fear that the disease will spread to Port-au-Prince and infect the thousands of homeless and impoverished living there.  Read Partners in Health’s article on the outbreak about how cholera is a disease of poverty… and do something to help.  

Friday, October 22, 2010


My family drinks a lot of tea.  Every morning I drink tea with breakfast.  Every evening when my brother comes home from school, he makes another pot of tea to drink while he does his homework.  When my friends come over, we drink tea.  My little sister occasionally has tea parties with her friends.  Every now and again on the weekends we have actual afternoon tea with scones in front of the kitchen fire. 
            I remember this song from my childhood:
            C-O-F-F-E-E, Coffee’s much stronger than tea
            Young folks should leave it alone
            For it makes them skin and bone
            Better by far to be
            Simply a drinker of tea
            Perhaps this was an influence.  Then again, it could just be the continual tea in the mornings that we’ve had since we were little.  I can tell the difference just by taste of tea that’s been brewed in a cup or brewed in a pot, tea that has milk put in first or milk put in after, tealeaves or tea bags.  It’s gotten to the point where I don’t feel awake unless I’ve had a cup of tea in the mornings…
            I’m not sure if it’s a Kiwi thing or just a British-Commonwealth thing or what, but tea has become the ultimate comfort in our house – or at least what we do whenever there’s a problem.  When I have a bad sailing race, I put the kettle on.  Frightful plane flight?  Tea is the solution.  I’m not even sure it’s the taste… maybe it’s the action of holding the cup, pouring tealeaves into the pot, and sitting by the fire…
            Do you drink tea or coffee or something else?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Mommy and Daddy!

My parents in Thailand...
In Africa...

Today is my parent’s twenty-first wedding anniversary.  Pretty cool, right?  They forgot about it for a while, so they didn’t go out to dinner or anything.  Instead we had apples with sage and pork roast… it was yummy. 
            My parents met in college, and got to know each other on a philosophy exchange trip to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  After that, they worked in refugee camps in Thailand, hiked in the Himalayas north of Srinagar, lived with their friends in houses in Vermont and in Boston, and wrote each other love letters from around the world.  A little while ago I found a letter my father wrote to my mother when she was living in Africa (it’s addressed to Nairobi, but I’m not sure if she was actually staying there or if that’s where her mail went) and he was living here in Cambridge.  It’s kind of amazing to see that they were still in love twenty or thirty years ago…
            Mommy and Daddy, your relationship is the one on which I base everything.  You are the two most in-love people I know, the most grounded relationship.  I love that you are still learning new things about each other after twenty-one years of marriage and three kids.  I know I can talk to you guys about anything and you’ll understand – I know that you can help me with anything.  You are both my rock and my open oceans… I love you guys.  

PS: I’m glad you had dinner with us

Boston Places: Tealuxe

One of my favorite places in the city is Tealuxe in Harvard Square.  Not only is it a great place to have a cup of tea before class (and conveniently located!) but it’s also a pretty great place for people watching.  Inside, it looks like Ollivander’s wand shop in Harry Potter and a library tower decided to have a child and infuse it with tea.  Most of their tea is excellent – I love their chai but their Lapsang Souchong (they only have one variety while they have about seven Earl Grey’s) doesn’t do it for me. 
But I love the copper counter at the front for when you’re by yourself or the little tables for when you’re with a friend.  I love that I can go in there by myself and not feel like the loser who, you know, went out by herself.  Because it’s just tea, and I’m way less self-conscious about being on my own when I’ve got a cup of Kashmiri Chai in front of me.  It’s not exactly super-cheap for a pot of tea, but it’s affordable, and it’s a nice place to take a friend or sit and study.  


I have not yet fallen out of love with hospitals.  Most people I know don’t like hospitals – they find them impersonal, and oftentimes they operate as a business rather than a center of healing.  I agree with this… to an extent.  Because to me, there’s something exciting about hospitals.  To me, they’re a place of hope, a place people go to get better.  Patients are surrounded by people who love them. 
            Every Thursday I go to clinic with a doctor friend of mine.  She’s an excellent doctor – a neurologist.  Every patient comes in scared or tired or just unhappy, and she does her best to assuage their fears and make them happier.  She tells them what’s wrong and how to fix it, what different types of medicine do.  She tells the truth, explains the procedures.  It’s pretty incredible to get to watch her in action. 
            In Africa, we lived at a hospital, and I think that was when I fell in love with them.  The hospital consisted of three or four long low buildings, and somehow they had planted a garden around them.  In the pediatrics ward, mothers lay with their malarial babies on hospital beds, making sure the flies didn’t land on them.  Someone had planted the little gravel yard at the front of the building with hanging orchids.  Sometimes, when I was hot or tired and the dust and sun of Africa were bothering my eyes, I would go and sit in the perfumed shade outside the pediatrics ward.  
            Maybe I love hospitals because they are this reminder of healing, reminders that people are strong and resilient and that they generally get better.  Maybe Africa spoiled me and now in my head every hospital has hanging orchids somewhere.  And maybe I just like sick people and medicine… hard to tell.  What do you love?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Oh, I wish.... via Refinery 29
I have unmanageable hair.  It falls to my waist, thick, curly, tangled hair that isn’t quite brown and isn’t quite red and isn’t quite blonde.  It puffs up when brushed, somehow gets oily and dry at the same time, and forms into dreadlocks if left unsupervised for half an hour.  Every so often I think about cutting it short, but it would just turn into a messy light-brown mop of ringlets.  I mean, I guess it makes a statement, right?
            When I was thirteen I had a boyfriend who said that his favorite thing about me was my hair.  The relationship didn’t last long.  

Africa (most likely the first of many)

I am going to be overarching and overly general in this post, so stay with me. 
When I was thirteen, my mother took me to South Africa with her.  I had just graduated from the eighth grade, and we stayed outside of Durban for two weeks while she did something with XDR TB and I played with HIV-positive children at the hospital.  While we were in South Africa I assisted on a C-section in a tiny hospital near the Mozambique border, sung traditional songs, and learned to pronounce the Zulu clicks.  We would drive for hours across the countryside to get to rural hospitals and clinics, places where I played clapping games with children who were waiting to be seen by their doctors.  On the way home, we stopped in Nairobi where my maternal grandparents were staying, and they took us to see the Masaai that they had befriended back when my mother was a girl.  Driving across the Rift Valley, playing games with kids in Pietermaritzburg, my Africa addiction took hold. 
Then when I was fifteen, the summer after sophomore year, my mother took us all to Rwanda to live for three months, and Africa struck again.  We lived in a corner of Southwestern Rwanda, where the sunsets were hazy against the hill and where children in bright blue school uniforms sang songs.  We watched the Euro Cup in a tiny bar with the entire village crammed in front of the television, cheering for whichever team got a point.  I went to support groups for HIV-positive children and saw girls my age pretending to nurse dolls.  I visited malnourished babies two hours away.  I worked in the hospital garden, where we had planted different types of plots as examples of sustainable agriculture.  
Africa holds onto you and doesn’t let go.  I wake up dreaming that I’m back in my concrete room on the hill and try to push aside a mosquito net that doesn’t exist.  I stop myself from saying “amokouru” to strangers on the street.  There’s something about it, something that makes you pull back again and again.  Go and visit, and you’ll see what I mean.  

October's Bright Blue Weather

What fall in New England looks like.  Michael Kors Campaign via mod-tv

I love Cambridge at this time of year.  All the Harvard parents have gone home and it’s back to locals and students, the T runs more regularly, and New England turns orange and red in a dazzling display of color.  We’re famous for our foliage, and for good reason: walking to class yesterday at around four meant that I walked down Franklin street while it was lit up with maple leaves.  Dragging my boots through the piles of color on the sidewalk, I had this overwhelming desire to jump into the leaves and roll around until my hair was covered in crumbs of leaf and the pile looked nothing like a pile anymore.  Fall is my favorite season in New England – for the purple mist at six o’clock in the morning, for the colorful leaves, for the achingly bright blue skies and for the chill in the air so that your fingers and nose are always freezing.  Also, it’s cold enough in the mornings now for my father to light a fire in the kitchen woodstove, so we all come downstairs and crowd around the woodstove drinking our tea in the mornings instead of missing each other on our ways out the door.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gap Year Glory

This is not where I'm going.... yet
Unlike the rest of my friends (well, most of them), I’m waiting a year before heading off to college.  This is partially because I’m young for my grade, and partially because I want to see the world and get a chance to figure things out before I cross the country and leave my family behind for a dorm room and classes.  This also means I have more time on my hands – time to read some of this and watch some of this and spend time with my family before going away.  It’s also pretty cool to be out in the real world and away from the type-A world of college preparatory school.  Right now I’m taking a class at the Harvard Extension School, volunteering with this group and soon I’ll be working with these guys.   I’m pretty excited, but it’s also definitely weird to be out of school and all by myself for the first time ever.  Haere mai.  
(image via the Reed website)